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The crack up, p.1

The Crack-Up, page 1


The Crack-Up

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The Crack-Up





  With other miscellaneous pieces, excerpts from note-books and letters by F. Scott Fitzgerald together with letters to Fitzgerald from Gertrude Stein, Edith Wharton, T. S. Eliot, Thomas Wolfe and John Dos Passos and essays and poems by Paul Rosenfeld, Glenway Wescott, John Dos Passos, John Peale Bishop and Edmund Wilson

  Copyright 1931 by Charles Scribner’s Sons

  Copyright 1933 by Editorial Publications, Inc.

  Copyright 1934, 1936 by Esquire, Inc.

  Copyright 1937 by Pocket Book Publishing Co.

  (Renewed ©1964 by Frances Scott Fitzgerald Lanahan)

  Copyright 1945 by New Directions Publishing

  Corporation Copyright 1945 by Elena Wilson


  Of the pieces by F. Scott Fitzgerald reprinted here, Echoes of the Jazz Age first appeared in Scribner’s Magazine; Ring in The New Republic; Early Success in American Cavalcade; and all the rest in Esquire. The poem called Lamp in the Window and the introductory verses by the editor were published first in The New Yorker. The essay by Mr. Rosenfeld is reprinted from his book Men Seen. The poem by Mr, Bishop, the essay by Mr. Wescott, and part of the essay by Mr, Dos Passos originally appeared in The New Republic, Acknowledgment is due Cosmopolitan Magazine for permission to include My Lost City, which was bought but never published by it.

  The editor is indebted to Mrs. Samuel Lanahan, Miss Peggy Wood Weaver, Mr. Gerald Murphy and the late John Peale Bishop for supplying him with letters from Fitzgerald; to Miss Gertrude Stein, Mr. T. S. Eliot, Mr. John Dos Passos and the literary executors of Thomas Wolfe and Edith Wharton for permission to print letters written to Fitzgerald; and to Mr. Harold Ober and Mr. Maxwell Perkins for help in collecting Fitzgerald’s articles.

  All rights reserved. Except for brief passages quoted in a newspaper, magazine, radio, or television review; no part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Publisher.

  ISBN 978-0-8112-1971-6

  New Directions Books are published for James Laughlin

  by New Directions Publishing Corporation,

  80 Eighth Avenue, New York 10011











  A. Anecdotes

  B. Bright Clippings

  C. Conversation and Things Overheard

  D. Descriptions of Things and Atmosphere

  E. Epigrams, Wisecracks and Jokes

  F. Feelings and Emotions (without Girls)

  G. Descriptions of Girls

  H. Descriptions of Humanity (Physical)

  I. Ideas

  J. Jingles and Songs

  K. Karacters

  L. Literary

  M. Moments (What People Do)

  N. Nonsense and Stray Phrases

  O. Observations

  R. Rough Stuff

  S. Scenes and Situations

  T. Titles

  U. Unclassified

  V. Vernacular

  Y. Youth and Army




  from Gertrude Stein, Edith Wharton and T. S. Eliot



  F. SCOTT FITZGERALD, by Paul Rosenfeld


  A NOTE ON FITZGERALD, by John Dos Passos

  THE HOURS, by John Peale Bishop


  SCOTT, your last fragments I arrange tonight,

  Assigning commas, setting accents right,

  As once I punctuated, spelled and trimmed

  When, passing in a Princeton spring—how dimmed

  By this damned quarter-century and more!—

  You left your Shadow Laurels at my door.

  That was a drama webbed of dreams: the scene

  A shimmering beglamored bluish-green

  Soiled Paris wineshop; the sad hero one

  Who loved applause but had his life alone;

  Who fed on drink for weeks; forgot to eat,

  “Worked feverishly,” nourished on defeat

  A lyric pride, and lent a lyric voice

  To all the tongueless knavish tavern boys,

  The liquor-ridden, the illiterate;

  Got stabbed one midnight by a tavern-mate—

  Betrayed, but self-betrayed by stealthy sins—

  And faded to the sound of violins.

  Tonight, in this dark long Atlantic gale,

  I set in order such another tale,

  While tons of wind that take the world for scope

  Rock blackened waters where marauders grope

  Our blue and bathed-in Massachusetts ocean;

  The Cape shakes with the depth-bomb’s dumbed concussion;

  And guns can interrupt me in these rooms,

  Where now I seek to breathe again the fumes

  Of iridescent drinking-dens, retrace

  The bright hotels, regain the eager pace

  You tell of . . . . Scott, the bright hotels turn bleak;

  The pace limps or stamps; the wines are weak;

  The horns and violins come faint tonight.

  A rim of darkness that devours light

  Runs like the wall of flame that eats the land;

  Blood, brain and labor pour into the sand;

  And here, among our comrades of the trade,

  Some buzz like husks, some stammer, much afraid,

  Some mellowly give tongue and join the drag

  Like hounds that bay the bounding anise-bag,

  Some swallow darkness and sit hunched and dull,

  The stunned beast’s stupor in the monkey-skull.

  I climbed, a quarter-century and more

  Played out, the college steps, unlatched my door,

  And, creature strange to college, found you there:

  The pale skin, hard green eyes, and yellow hair—

  Intently pinching out before a glass

  Some pimples left by parties at the Nass;

  Nor did you stop abashed, thus pocked and blotched,

  But kept on peering while I stood and watched.

  Tonight, from days more distant now, we find,

  Than holidays in France were, left behind,

  Than spring of graduation from the fall

  That saw us grubbing below City Hall,

  Through storm and darkness, Time’s contrary stream,

  There glides amazingly your mirror’s beam—

  To bring before me still, glazed mirror-wise,

  The glitter of the hard and emerald eyes.

  The cornea tough, the aqueous chamber cold,

  Those glassy optic bulbs that globe and hold—

  They pass their image on to what they mint,

  To blue ice or light buds attune their tint,

  And leave us, to turn over, iris-fired,

  Not the great Ritz-sized diamond you desired

  But jewels in a handful, lying loose:

  Flawed amethysts; the moonstone’s milky blues;

  Chill blues of pale transparent tourmaline;

  Opals of shifty yellow, chartreuse green,

  Wherein a vein vermilion flees and flickers—
  Tight phials of the spirit’s light mixed liquors;

  Some tinsel zircons, common turquoise; but

  Two emeralds, green and lucid, one half-cut,

  One cut consummately—both take their place

  In Letters’ most expensive Cartier case.

  And there I have set them out for final show,

  And come to the task’s dead-end, and dread to know

  Those eyes struck dark, dissolving in a wrecked

  And darkened world, that gleam of intellect

  That spilled into the spectrum of tune, taste,

  Scent, color, living speech, is gone, is lost;

  And we must dwell among the ragged stumps,

  With owls digesting mice to dismal lumps

  Of skin and gristle, monkeys scared by thunder,

  Great buzzards that descend to grab the plunder.

  And I, your scraps and sketches sifting yet,

  Can never thus revive one sapphire jet,

  However close I look, however late,

  But only spell and point and punctuate.


  February, 1942

  Autobiographical Pieces

  The following pieces have been selected from the articles written by F. Scott Fitzgerald between 1931 and 1937. They make an autobiographical sequence which vividly puts on record his state of mind and his point of view during the later years of his life. The dates given are the dates of their first publication, except in the case of My Lost City, which here appears in print for the first time and which has been assigned to the month when it was received by Fitzgerald’s literary agent, Mr. Harold Ober.


  November, 1931

  IT is too soon to write about the Jazz Age with perspective, and without being suspected of premature arteriosclerosis. Many people still succumb to violent retching when they happen upon any of its characteristic words—words which have since yielded in vividness to the coinages of the underworld. It is as dead as were the Yellow Nineties in 1902. Yet the present writer already looks back to it with nostalgia. It bore him up, flattered him and gave him more money than he had dreamed of, simply for telling people that he felt as they did, that something had to be done with all the nervous energy stored up and unexpended in the War.

  The ten-year period that, as if reluctant to die outmoded in its bed, leaped to a spectacular death in October, 1929, began about the time of the May Day riots in 1919. When the police rode down the demobilized country boys gaping at the orators in Madison Square, it was the sort of measure bound to alienate the more intelligent young men from the prevailing order. We didn’t remember anything about the Bill of Rights until Mencken began plugging it, but we did know that such tyranny belonged in the jittery little countries of South Europe. If goose-livered business men had this effect on the government, then maybe we had gone to war for J. P. Morgan’s loans after all. But, because we were tired of Great Causes, there was no more than a short outbreak of moral indignation, typified by Dos Passos’ Three Soldiers. Presently we began to have slices of the national cake and our idealism only flared up when the newspapers made melodrama out of such stories as Harding and the Ohio Gang or Sacco and Vanzetti. The events of 1919 left us cynical rather than revolutionary, in spite of the fact that now we are all rummaging around in our trunks wondering where in hell we left the liberty cap—“I know I had it”—and the moujik blouse. It was characteristic of the Jazz Age that it had no interest in politics at all.

  It was an age of miracles, it was an age of art, it was an age of excess, and it was an age of satire. A Stuffed Shirt, squirming to blackmail in a lifelike way, sat upon the throne of the United States; a stylish young man hurried over to represent to us the throne of England. A world of girls yearned for the young Englishman; the old American groaned in his sleep as he waited to be poisoned by his wife, upon the advice of the female Rasputin who then made the ultimate decision in our national affairs. But such matters apart, we had things our way at last. With Americans ordering suits by the gross in London, the Bond Street tailors perforce agreed to moderate their cut to the American longwaisted figure and loose-fitting taste, something subtle passed to America, the style of man. During the Renaissance, Francis the First looked to Florence to trim his leg. Seventeenth-century England aped the court of France, and fifty years ago the German Guards officer bought his civilian clothes in London. Gentlemen’s clothes—symbol of “the power that man must hold and that passes from race to race.”

  We were the most powerful nation. Who could tell us any longer what was fashionable and what was fun? Isolated during the European War, we had begun combing the unknown South and West for folkways and pastimes, and there were more ready to hand.

  The first social revelation created a sensation out of all proportion to its novelty. As far back as 1915 the unchaperoned young people of the smaller cities had discovered the mobile privacy of that automobile given to young Bill at sixteen to make him “self-reliant.” At first petting was a desperate adventure even under such favorable conditions, but presently confidences were exchanged and the old commandment broke down. As early as 1917 there were references to such sweet and casual dalliance in any number of the Yale Record or the Princeton Tiger.

  But petting in its more audacious manifestations was confined to the wealthier classes—among other young people the old standard prevailed until after the War, and a kiss meant that a proposal was expected, as young officers in strange cities sometimes discovered to their dismay. Only in 1920 did the veil finally fall—the Jazz Age was in flower.

  Scarcely had the staider citizens of the republic caught their breaths when the wildest of all generations, the generation which had been adolescent during the confusion of the War, brusquely shouldered my contemporaries out of the way and danced into the limelight. This was the generation whose girls dramatized themselves as flappers, the generation that corrupted its elders and eventually overreached itself less through lack of morals than through lack of taste. May one offer in exhibit the year 1922! That was the peak of the younger generation, for though the Jazz Age continued, it became less and less an affair of youth.

  The sequel was like a children’s party taken over by the elders, leaving the children puzzled and rather neglected and rather taken aback. By 1923 their elders, tired of watching the carnival with ill-concealed envy, had discovered that young liquor will take the place of young blood, and with a whoop the orgy began. The younger generation was starred no longer.

  A whole race going hedonistic, deciding on pleasure. The precocious intimacies of the younger generation would have come about with or without prohibition—they were implicit in the attempt to adapt English customs to American conditions. (Our South, for example, is tropical and early maturing—it has never been part of the wisdom of France and Spain to let young girls go unchaperoned at sixteen and seventeen.) But the general decision to be amused that began with the cocktail parties of 1921 had more complicated origins.

  The word jazz in its progress toward respectability has meant first sex, then dancing, then music. It is associated with a state of nervous stimulation, not unlike that of big cities behind the lines of a war. To many English the War still goes on because all the forces that menace them are still active—Wherefore eat, drink and be merry, for to-morrow we die. But different causes had now brought about a corresponding state in America—though there were entire classes (people over fifty, for example) who spent a whole decade denying its existence even when its puckish face peered into the family circle. Never did they dream that they had contributed to it. The honest citizens of every class, who believed in a strict public morality and were powerful enough to enforce the necessary legislation, did not know that they would necessarily be served by criminals and quacks, and do not really believe it to-day. Rich righteousness had always been able to buy honest and intelligent servants to free the slaves or the Cubans, so when this attempt collapsed our elders stood firm with all the s
tubbornness of people involved in a weak case, preserving their righteousness and losing their children. Silver-haired women and men with fine old faces, people who never did a consciously dishonest thing in their lives, still assure each other in the apartment hotels of New York and Boston and Washington that “there’s a whole generation growing up that will never know the taste of liquor.” Meanwhile their granddaughters pass the wellthumbed copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover around the boarding-school and, if they get about at all, know the taste of gin or corn at sixteen. But the generation who reached maturity between 1875 and 1895 continue to believe what they want to believe.

  Even the intervening generations were incredulous. In 1920 Heywood Broun announced that all this hubbub was nonsense, that young men didn’t kiss but told anyhow. But very shortly people over twenty-five came in for an intensive education. Let me trace some of the revelations vouchsafed them by reference to a dozen works written for various types of mentality during the decade. We begin with the suggestion that Don Juan leads an interesting life (Jurgen, 1919); then we learn that there’s a lot of sex around if we only knew it (Winesburg, Ohio, 1920) that adolescents lead very amorous lives (This Side of Paradise, 1920), that there are a lot of neglected Anglo-Saxon words (Ulysses, 1921), that older people don’t always resist sudden temptations (Cytherea, 1922), that girls are sometimes seduced without being ruined (Flaming Youth, 1922), that even rape often turns out well (The Sheik, 1922), that glamorous English ladies are often promiscuous (The Green Hat, 1924), that in fact they devote most of their time to it (The Vortex, 1926), that it’s a damn good thing too (Lady Chatterley’s Lover, 1928), and finally that there are abnormal variations (The Well of Loneliness, 1928, and Sodom and Gomorrah, 1929).

  In my opinion the erotic element in these works, even The Sheik written for children in the key of Peter Rabbit, did not one particle of harm. Everything they described, and much more, was familiar in our contemporary life. The majority of the theses were honest and elucidating—their effect was to restore some dignity to the male as opposed to the he-man in American life. (“And what is a ‘He-man’?” demanded Gertrude Stein one day. “Isn’t it a large enough order to fill out to the dimensions of all that ‘a man’ has meant in the past? A ‘He-man’!”) The married woman can now discover whether she is being cheated, or whether sex is just something to be endured, and her compensation should be to establish a tyranny of the spirit, as her mother may have hinted. Perhaps many women found that love was meant to be fun. Anyhow the objectors lost their tawdry little case, which is one reason why our literature is now the most living in the world.

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